Among the many reasons couples decide to seek therapy—including to learn better communication skills, to improve intimacy, and to heal old wounds—deciding whether or not the relationship is going to survive is the motive for about half.
A recent study from the University of Louisville that studied 249 couples in counseling found that when couples had the goal to improve the relationship, the ultimate outcome was better than those who came to therapy to determine whether or not the relationship could be saved.
Specifically, couples who sought therapy in order to improve their relationship were almost 80% more likely to be together six months later. More than half of those who wanted help deciding about whether or not to split up had indeed broken up six months later.
It is important to know what you want when going into couples therapy.
Here are some tips if you and your partner are considering couples therapy:
- Talk about why you are going ahead of time. Given what I just said above about outcomes based on goals, this makes sense. If you are going into it with the goal to improve your relationship, but your partner is wondering whether the relationship is worth saving, there are going to be challenges from the start. I am not saying you must have the same goal when you walk into the office, but knowing upfront that you have different goals will eliminate at least one surprise.
- Discuss what you want in a therapist, and decide who is responsible for scheduling the appointment. If your partner is adamant about having a therapist of a certain gender, and you don’t really care, then go with your partner’s preference. If your schedule is less flexible than your partner’s, take responsibility for scheduling the appointment so that you can be sure to have the time allotted.
- Recognize that both you and your partner have contributed to what is bringing you to couples therapy in the first place. Many people are resistant to couples counseling because they are afraid of being blamed for the problems in the relationship. Neither of you is perfect, and coming into counseling with the attitude that you want to improve the relationship (if that is in fact your goal) instead of blaming your partner for its problems will be much more successful.
- Agree to do whatever homework you are asked in order to move towards your goal. The counselor will probably assign you and your partner homework between sessions, and it is important that you both take it seriously and give it your best effort. Otherwise, what is the point of going to counseling? Therapists don’t have magic wands. It is up to you and your partner to make the magic. If you or your partner is not willing to participate, that says something about commitment to the relationship as well.
For those of you who go to couples counseling, or do couples counseling professionally, what other tips would you recommend?
Owen, J., Duncan, B., Anker, M., Sparks, J. (2012 February 13). Initial Relationship Goal and Couple Therapy Outcomes at Post and Six-Month Follow-Up. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026998